Bobby Ryan on the dangers of underestimating the Senators

Shawn McKenzie and Chris Johnston get you set for Eastern Conference finals Game 2, where the Penguins have to generate more offensively, and the Senators hope to use their rest as a weapon.

“Man, this must be a horrific place to play.”

That was Bobby Ryan’s first impression of Ottawa during his one-and-only game in Canada’s capital as a member of the Anaheim Ducks.

A lot has changed since Ryan’s Newport Beach days, of course. The 30-year-old winger has been all-in on Ottawa since he arrived via trade four years ago.

“When I was traded here a few years ago, I admit I had a pretty warped view of what I was getting myself into,” Ryan wrote in a piece published on The Players’ Tribune Monday. “But once I actually got here, and explored the city — really explored it — I fell in love. The architecture, the culture, and really just passion these people have for hockey and life in general has made it an amazing place to live. That’s why I didn’t really hesitate when I signed a long-term deal [in 2014] to stay here.”

Ryan learned long ago not to underestimate Ottawa, but the rest of the hockey world is still learning that lesson even as the Senators make a deep run this post-season all the way to the final four.

“It never clicked with me until recently how the way I had underestimated Ottawa because I was only viewing it on the surface level is not too different from the way the rest of the hockey world has kind of written us off throughout the playoffs,” Ryan wrote. “Just like our team, Ottawa is only appreciated if you look a layer below the surface. When you look at this place with an open mind, you grow to realize what makes it special.”

What makes the Senators special is three-fold: consistent goaltending in Craig Anderson, a regimented group of forwards taking a unique approach to the game, and Erik Karlsson—who Ryan calls “the best hockey player in the world” this post-season.

This change among the forward group, implemented by head coach Guy Boucher in his first season at the helm, meant fewer highlight-reel goals from snipers and more gritty goals. Or, in Ryan’s case, fewer goals altogether.

His 13 goals and 12 assists in 62 regular season games was his lowest career total for a full season, and invited plenty of criticism—on Twitter, in the media, and even from “honest” fans at the grocery store.

But don’t call it a slump.

“Yes, I know I didn’t score as many goals this season as I have in the past. Yes, I’ve gone stretches where, if you looked at a score sheet, you probably would have had a hard time telling I’d been on the ice at all. I get it. Sometimes, I was frustrated too,” Ryan wrote. “But whenever I got down this year I just had to remind myself that this was by design.”

Ryan has seen more of the spotlight during the playoffs, with five goals and six assists through 13 games so far.

Look for that playing style to be taken up a notch Monday night in Game 2 of the Eastern Conference Final against the Pittsburgh Penguins.

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Here’s what else Ryan said in the Players’ Tribune piece:

On Boucher’s message to him during training camp:
“He told me that if our team was going to succeed, we needed reliable ‘net guys.’ For his system to work, he needed players who could do the dirty work in front of the goalie and behind the net in order to set up chances. I agreed with it, but didn’t realize he was implying that he wanted me to step into that role. Once training camp began and he started putting me in those situations, it became clear that I was going to need to alter my game pretty drastically.”

On Craig Anderson’s funny locker-room presence:
“He’s the guy in the locker room who keeps everyone loose. He has this really dry sense of humor. He’ll almost go down the line chirping every single guy in the room — before delivering a heaping helping on himself so nobody gets left out.”

On Erik Karlsson’s dominance:
“I’m not going to mince words here: This post-season, Erik Karlsson has been the best hockey player in the world. There’s not another guy I’d rather have on our team. He’s elevated his game to another level entirely.”

On GM Pierre Dorion’s No. 1 question for his players:
“Pierre had one more message for us, one that’s become more and more relevant the longer we keep playing: Why not us? Why not now?”

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